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Shabbat Parashat Acharei Mot| 5771

Ein Ayah: Benefits and Dangers of Aesthetics

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 6:45)

Gemara: Rav said: The young men of Israel who did not taste sin will, in the future time [of the ideal world], give off a smell like [the fertile region of] Lebanon. This is hinted in the pasuk [dealing with that time and using the metaphor of vegetation for Israel’s success]: “Its shoots will go, and its grandeur will be like the olive tree, and it will have a have a fragrance like Lebanon” (Hoshea 14:7).   

 

Ein Ayah: There are two ways for a young man to straighten his path when his physical and emotional powers and his zest for life are at their height. The normal path is to distance himself from preoccupation with beauty, despite the fact that feelings of appreciation for beauty are good and embellish the spirit. A pure tzaddik can use aesthetics directly in a very positive manner, as Hashem would not have created this strong feeling in man for no positive reason. In fact, aesthetics broaden the mind and a person’s good energies, as the gemara says about a nice looking wife, living quarters, and household objects.

A good fragrance is a general term for fine enjoyment that is fitting for people with a delicate and pure spirit, but Chazal treat it as an enjoyment that is not equally fit for all people. For the right people, such emotions are special tools for positive gain. Despite all of the advantages of beauty, though, most people are forced to push off enjoying it during their adolescence because of the moral damage that it is likely to cause. We find the story of the good looking young man, who was very conscious of his looks until he felt his evil inclination creep in. He swore to become a nazir (which would take away from his looks) for which he was greatly praised (Nedarim 9b).

It is correct to push away interest in aesthetics, which is an external value, as a safeguard from serious danger. However, whenever one has to sacrifice something of value, there is a lack of shleimut (completeness). The higher path is for one’s intellect and morality to be so complete that even the appreciation of aesthetics can be used in a variety of shades so they will add grandeur to the true shleimut of morality, holy behavior, and knowledge, love, and fear of Hashem.

The Lebanon forest region is special because of its strong, tall cedars and the fragrance of its vast vegetation.  The strength is metaphorical for inner values and the fragrance for the external aesthetic element. These days, the world is on a low level so that the evil inclination is ever lurking, and almost every adolescent has tasted sin [i.e., is capable of improper thoughts and thus must be careful of sin]. Therefore, one should minimize exposure to aesthetics. If the evil inclination sees one beautifying himself, it believes the person is his for the taking. Therefore, one should limit his good looks and fragrance, as Chazal teach that it is a disgrace for a scholar to go out publicly with a perfumed smell. That gives the evil inclination too much room, and bad traits seep in. We thus guard the crucial powers while sacrificing the secondary ones.

In the future, though, there will be adolescents in Israel who will not have tasted the taste of sin. They will not need to hold back from the grandeur and pleasantness that can strengthen the spirit but will give off a fragrance like Lebanon, as they will have all elements of aesthetics in a helpful, not dangerous manner. This fragrance represents an element of evoking respect from one’s peers in regard to aesthetics, and it will be related to sanctity and shleimut, as there will not be a struggle between the physical and spiritual.

This is only for one who did not experience sin, for those who did, and thus did not want to give up pleasure even when they should have, will be missing the necessary shleimut.

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